I'm just starting out with this hobby and was experimenting with my first
few sections of track last night. I found that even with track in good
condition the joins caused a drastic current drop. I tried to solder
additional feeders to some sections but found that I was melting the
sleepers and not getting the solder to bond to the nickel silver track. Is
there a secret to this operation? Or an alternative to soldering?
Any info would be appreciated
It sounds to me like a soldering problem.
Ensure you use suitable flux for the soldering join. I use Carr's Red Label
, and that seems to
work ok for me for that kind of duty (though the Green Label is popular
too). This will need to be 'painted' onto the rail with an old, small paint
brush (not one that will be used for anything else again).
It's a good idea to 'tin' the feeder wire as well. This is done by dipping
the bare part of the wire into the flux, then with a small amount of molten
solder on the tip of the soldering iron, touch the wire to that solder, and
it should flow onto the wire.
Note: Make sure you don't breath in any of the fumes. If possible, use a fan
on a light setting to blow any of the fumes away from you, and always try to
do such work in a well ventilated area (ie, not an enclosed room with no
open windows or doors).
You shouldn't have to hold the soldering iron in place for more than half a
second, and certainly make sure you position the iron so that it points down
towards the rail from above, otherwise the heat from the element is likely
to melt the plastic.
Once the solder has cooled to solid, test the join by gently pulling on the
feeder wire. If it comes away, try again.
Once you have the finished the join, always wipe clean the join with warm
water (best with a little detergent in).
Hope this helps,
Just adding to what Ian has written - If you can't get your hands on
the Carr's fluxes, see if you can get some Templers Telux paste flux
from your local B&Q (where I got mine). It works extremely well on
ferrous and non-ferrous metals and (important for trackwork) doesn't
leave any harmful residues to cause eventual oxidisation.
Also a decent sized soldering iron from 25W upwards, and a
screwdriver shaped bit to give a large contact area also helps. Lower
wattage irons with pointed bits have to be held onto a joint for too
long, and that causes damage to surrounding plastic.
Another method I have seen described is to drill a small hole at an angle
up from the bottom of the rail, emerging at the base of the web. Poke your
wire up through the hole, apply flux and solder. Trim or file off any
excess. The newly-drilled hole ensures good electrical contact.
An easier, but less reliable way is to solder feed wires to the bottom of
rail joiners, bend the wires down at right angles and feed through holes
in the basebaord.
The first is ideal for the 'Throw the track down as fast as you can
and worry about the electrics as an 'after the fact'' brigade! It also
to the dreaded solder globule problem which in my opinion,
looks an absolute mess and really careless.
Solder droppers to undersides of rails _before_ laying track and
you'll get a much
neater finish. Undersides of fishplates is another option.
"Phil Thomas" wrote in
I'd echo much of what's been said already, especially Graham's
suggestion to solder droppers (short lengths of wire intended to act as
connectors between a part and the main feed) to the *underside* of the
rail prior to laying it or alternatively on to the underside of rail
All the business about using specialist fluxes and so forth though I do
think is a bit of a red herring. Bog standard multi-core electrical
solder from your local Maplins/Tandy who-ever is perfectly fine.
Tin (lightly cover in solder) your wire first, make sure you have a hot
iron and make sure that the metal rail is clean and bob's your uncle.
Using a hot iron quickly is a much safer bet that using a slightly cool
iron and soldering more slowly - much less chance of any damage to
All it needs is a little bit of practice. Not wishing to impugn anyone's
skill but when my son was 7 or 8 he spent an evening with me soldering
droppers on to rail joiners. If he can do it after only been shown once
then anyone can - admittedly prior to this I had taken the time to show
him how to solder.
Make your droppers 3 to 4 inches long - that way they'll reach through
your baseboard and you'll have a little amount to play around with. Also
assuming that you're using multi-strand wire don't be tempted to twist
it in to one thick strand, leave it as loose strands and you'll find
that it wicks the solder when you come to tin it - which in turn makes
for making a really easy joint with either the rail or rail joiner.
Finally I tend to take the "overkill" approach; I solder droppers to
virtually every rail joiner I use. That doesn?t mean that they all end
up being wired up but it does mean that if my electrical plan alters
after initial construction everything?s already in place to accommodate
Hope this helps.
Rail joiners shouldn't be used to carry power - they're unsupported
and the mechanical action of the weight of the engine causes the
joint to flex and the joiner to come loose.
The result is poor electrical contact between the joiner and the rails
So called "terminal joiners< ie, railjoiners with wires soldered to them.
I'll add/emphasise only two points to the the soldering advice given by
a)use a large iron - 60W or better. The smaller ones (pencil type) don't
transfer the heat fast enough.
b) use a heat sink on either side of the location where you will solder
the feed wire. A roughly 1" square chunk of metal, or pair of pliers
laid across the track will do nicely.
O'wise, make sure the rail joiners are tight. Squish 'em gently with a
I find that instead of the Carr's Red Label, Jack Daniel's Black
Label, applied liberally to the solderer, works just fine.
Indian Valley Locomotive Works.
One of my pet hates - flux for everything. Don't get me wrong, but
there is a time and place for external flux and it's not in electrical
If you're using a good quality cored solder (with the flux already
contained within the solder), there is simply no requirement for other
fluxes to be used.
Most of the externally applied fluxes leave a corrosive residue that
needs washing away afterwards.
Multicore make a suitable range of non-corrosive cored solders. Pick
one that is for suitable for "electrical use". This will be good for
joing n/s, brass, copper. One of our club members uses plumbers flux
to make up his handbuilt track with n/s rail and copper clad sleepers
- he doesn't wash it after construction and gradually the whole thing
turns green as the copper corrodes. Leaving very little chance for any
paint to stick to it. And what p*sses me off more, is that he used
cored solder in the first place!
The common problems are:
1. lack of heat - usually due to use of a small power rated iron (as
mentioned elsewhere). This is probably the most important factor in
any good soldered joint.
2. particularly with nickel-silver rail is an oxide coating on the n/
s. Use a small glass-fibre scratch brush to make sure the joint area
3. Make sure both the rail and the wire are pre-tinned - to join the
two togther needs a quick touch with a suitably powered iron - I use a
50w Antex with a small tip.
I learnt to solder electrical joints with a teacher called Charlie
Wright at my apprentice training school. We used to practice on
Amphenol round multi-pin plugs of about 30 pins. If it wasn't right,
he pulled out one of the middle wires and you had to de-solder the
lot, to get at the one he'd chopped, before you could carry on.
It was a steep learning process.
Never heard that one before!
All I can say is you must have some pretty heavy locos for this to be
Either that or your track must be laid on a flexible base like foam
underlay with loose fishplates.
In my case, track is glued to cork tiles, nice and solid, no movement
on a permanent layout.
The use of fishplates as feed points is not something I do very often
but it does have its place. In the 9 year lifetime of my layout which
included 1 year in storage in an Sydney, Australia garage with
temperatures ranging from 0c at night to 45c+ during the day, it has
never been a problem - you must be doing something wrong!
I would agree for the typical electrical joint when using components
which are usually pre-tinned and reasonably clean. But I think that
some fluxing is required when we get into the less than perfect
situations in model railways. The flux does promote rapid
penetration of the joint and the drawback with cored solder can be
that you need to melt too much solder to get sufficient flux to do the
I did some test on fluxes a few years ago. Traditionally I had used
Fluxite paste which never left a corrosive residue, but I couldn't
get any replacements locally. So I worked through the fluxes on offer
on the plumbing section of B&Q and found out that most of the fluxes
left that hard green residue. However, I found that the Templers
Telux flux I mentioned earlier leaves no corrosive residue. As a
long term test, I soldered up a scratchbuilt brass underframe for a
7mm coach and have left it uncleaned of any residue. It has shown
no signs of corrosion over a period or three or four years.
Most of my soldering experience was on audio installations - things
like wiring double normalled B gauge jackfields. No fluxing there
In message ,
You'd be surprised a what moves on a nice and solid permanent layout.
What about expansion and contraction of the rails, for example?
My layout is in the garden, and during the year the rails suffer
temperatures between -10 and 40 degrees C. I do not use fishplates for
electrical connectivity, having tried it and found it unsatisfactory. I
think this is because of oxidation of the rail and fishplate surfaces,
which hinders connectivity.